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McConnell Updated to Accommodate Changes in Teaching

McConnell Hall was overdue for some changes.

Since it was built in 1967 as part of the original Clark Science Center, McConnell, the academic building between Bass and Burton halls, has not been updated. McConnell houses the science center’s busiest classrooms and auditorium, as well as the computer science, physics and astronomy departments. Also, the technical machine shop resides the McConnell basement.

McConnell Hall’s classrooms and central lecture hall had been designed for a different type of teaching, circa 1970, in which a faculty member lectures to an attentive class of students, who scribble notes of what they hear with minimal interaction, says Tom Litwin, director of the Clark Science Center.

“The building really needed renovating,” he says of McConnell. “We have moved into a new era of experiential, hands-on learning, and the building had to be brought along with us.”

A construction crew keeps busy in McConnell Hall basement

So as of May, McConnell went off line for the summer while much-needed modifications and renovations have begun on its airflow systems, its basement and first-floor classrooms and labs, the machine shop and lecture hall.

When the project is finished, McConnell will be the location of state-of-the-art classrooms with audio-visual upgrades, including Internet projection capabilities, user-friendly lighting systems and versatile teaching spaces, says Litwin.

McConnell Auditorium, in particular, will be a more efficient and flexible teaching space, though it may be unrecognizable from its former shape—a steeply sloping, fixed-seating lecture hall with insufficient teaching options and limited legroom. The new, 95-seat hall will feature a better use of the vertical space as well as moveable furniture that can be adapted to different lectures and presentations.

“These new teaching spaces are designed for more interactive teaching,” says Litwin, who began at Smith in 1989. “They are also designed to enable a faculty member to focus on teaching rather than on the mechanics of the room. They will be able to focus on the substance of their course content.”

Just as importantly, the building will be equipped with cooling and heating systems that generate more air flow, making for a healthier space in which to work.

Litwin, a member of the college’s Sustainability Committee and the founding director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program, has overseen the McConnell renovations with an eye toward the building’s use of natural resources. “Anything we have done in McConnell has been a step in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency,” he said, though he emphasizes those efforts have been somewhat limited by the original infrastructure in the 38-year-old building.

The McConnell renovations are on schedule to be completed by August 29, in time to accommodate a full slate of classes to begin the new academic year.



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